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Pope Benedict XVI dedicated this morning’s general audience to a special catechesis on his recently-concluded journey to Poland, “revisiting,” together with the 35,000 faithful in St. Peter’s Square, the various stages of his apostolic trip.

“My pilgrimage began under the sign of the priesthood,” he said recalling his meeting with clergy in Warsaw. “It continued with an expression of ecumenical solicitude in the Lutheran church of the Most Holy Trinity. On that occasion I reiterated my firm intention to consider the restoration of full visible unity among Christian as a priority of my ministry.”

The Holy Father then went on to refer to “the solemn Eucharistic celebration” in Pilsudski Square, a place, he said, “that has now acquired a symbolic value, having hosted many historic events,” including Masses celebrated by John Paul II, the funeral of Cardinal Wyszynski, and “mourning ceremonies in the days following the death of my predecessor.”

The Pope also mentioned his visits to the shrines “that marked the life of the priest and bishop, Karol Wojtyla:” Czestochowa, Kalwaria Zebrzydowska, and Divine Mercy.

“I will never forget the visit to the famous Marian Shrine of Jasna Gora at Czestochowa, … heart of the Polish nation,” he said, “where I again presented the faith as a fundamental attitude of the spirit that involves the entire person. … From the Virgin of Sorrows at the Shrine of Kalwaria … I asked support for the faith of the ecclesial community in moments of trial and difficulty. The visit to the Shrine of Divine Mercy … gave me the opportunity to highlight how Divine Mercy illuminates the mystery of man. In the nearby convent, … St. Faustina Kowalska received a message of faith for humanity, echoed and interpreted by John Paul II.”

The Pope also mentioned “other symbolic shrines” of his journey: Wadowice, birthplace of John Paul II, where lie “the roots of his robust faith, his sensitive and open humanity, his love for beauty and truth, his devotion to the Virgin, his love for the Church, and above all his vocation to sanctity;” and Wawel cathedral “where he celebrated his first Mass.”

Referring to his meeting with young people in Krakow’s Blonie Park, the Holy Father quoted a phrase his predecessor used to like to repeat: “Stand firm in your faith.” This, he added, “is the duty I left to the beloved children of Poland, encouraging them to persevere in their faithfulness to Christ and to the Church, that Europe and the world may not lack their evangelical witness. All Christians must feel the commitment to bear such witness, so as to ensure that humanity in the third millennium may never again know horrors similar to those … of the concentration camps of Auschwitz-Birkenau.”

In places such as those, the Holy Father went on, “the only response is the Cross of Christ: the Love that descended to the abyss of evil in order to save man at his very roots, where his freedom can rebel against God.”

“He concluded: “May modern man never forget Auschwitz or the other ‘factories of death’ in which the Nazi regime sought to eliminate God and take His place. May he not be tempted to racial hatred, which is the origin of the worst forms of anti-Semitism. May he go back to recognizing that God is Father of all, and calls us all in Christ to build together a world of justice, truth and peace.

At the conclusion of his general audience the Holy Father said: “My thoughts go out to the beloved nation of East Timor, wracked by tension and violence which has caused victims and destruction. As I encourage the local Church and Catholic organizations to continue, together with other international organizations, their efforts to help those displaced, I invite you all to pray to the Most Holy Virgin that with her maternal protection she may sustain the efforts of the people working for the pacification of souls and the return of normality.”

At midday today in the Holy See Press Office, a press conference was held to present the 2nd World Meeting of Ecclesial Movements and New Communities which is due to take place in Rocca di Papa, south of Rome, from May 31 to June 2, on the theme: “the beauty of being a Christian and the joy of communicating this.” The ecclesial movements and new communities are due to meet with Benedict XVI in St. Peter’s Square on Saturday June 3, the eve of Pentecost.

Participating in the press conference were Archbishop Stanislaw Rylko, Bishop Josef Clemens, and Guzman Carriquiry, respectively president, secretary and under-secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Laity.

Archbishop Rylko affirmed that the meeting with the Pope on June 23 – the second such encounter following that of May 30, 1998 – “is an important sign of continuity with the Magisterium of John Paul II, who saw in these new groups precious gifts of the Spirit to today’s Church, and a great sign of hope for humanity in our time.”

After recalling how Benedict XVI’s dealings with ecclesial movements “date back to the mid 1960s when he was still a teacher at Tubingen,” the president of the pontifical council highlighted the fact that the Pope “sees in these movements ‘powerful ways of living the faith’,” and that “his theological contribution to defining the ecclesial identity of the movements is fundamental.” Furthermore, the prelate added, “since his election as Pope, Benedict XVI has not ceased to show his concern for ecclesial movements.”

Referring to the forthcoming meeting, organized by his Pontifical Council for the Laity, Archbishop Rylko specified that delegates from around 100 movements and new communities would be participating, along with representatives from dicasteries of the Roman Curia and an ecumenical delegation.

“At the heart of the conference’s reflections,” he went on, “is the question, an inevitable question for Christ’s disciples: how to transmit the splendor of Christ’s beauty to the modern world?”

The president of the pontifical council then emphasized that “in our own time, the experience of the beauty of being Christian has found, and continues to find, a particularly fertile soil in the ecclesial movements and new communities.”

“Christians,” he concluded, “must announce to the world that the Gospel is not a utopia, but a way towards the fullness of life; that faith is not a burden, a yoke to weigh down mankind, but a marvelous adventure restoring man to his full humanity and to all the dignity and freedom of the children of God; that Christ is the only answer to the desire for happiness we carry in our hearts. In a word, they must communicate the beauty that so many have found thanks to ecclesial movements and new communities.”

For his part, Bishop Josef Clemens, explained some of the criteria governing the activity of the conference and the choice of relators.

“The three principal contributions,” he said, “will be presented by Cardinals Christoph Schonborn O.P., Marc Ouellet P.S.S., and Angelo Scola. They will consider Christological questions (Christ, the most beautiful of Adam’s sons), ecclesiological questions (the beauty of being Christian), and pastoral matters (ecclesial movements and new communities in the mission of the Church: priorities and prospects). Round table discussions will provide an opportunity to consider two fundamental aspects of the activity of movements and new communities: educational work, and bearing witness to the beauty of Christ in today’s world.”

“We have received numerous requests to join, but for logistical reasons the number of participants will be limited to little more than 300, representing more than 100 movements and new communities; in any case, more than double the number of ecclesial groups represented at the conference of 1998.”

Bishop Clemens continued: “The organization of prayer vigils in Rome has been left to the initiative of the individual movements and communities. … The Vicariate of Rome has made many of the city’s basilicas and churches available, both in the center and on the outskirts.” A list of the various initiatives may be consulted at: http://www.laici.org

The secretary of the pontifical council, then outlined details of the June 3 meeting with the Holy Father. “The liturgy will be preceded by a period … of prayer and reflection,” he said, “also evoking the earlier meeting with John Paul II … in 1998, and the intervention on that occasion by the then Cardinal Ratzinger. … A large choir composed of representatives from the various ecclesial groups will enliven this part of the meeting with songs. … The choir will also welcome the arrival of the Holy Father and accompany him as he moves across St. Peter’s Square.”

At 6 p.m., the Pope will preside over the liturgy of Vespers. Three Psalms will be sung, and “at the end of each there will be a reflection or comment from a founder or leader of the movements and new communities. This will be followed by the Holy Father’s homily.”

It is expected that 300,000 people will participate in the event, most of them from Italy, although “30,000 faithful are on the move in Europe, of whom 4,000 from Germany. Five thousand participants are expected from Latin America, 450 from Africa, 300 from Asia and 100 from the Church in Oceania,” the bishop said.

At 10 a.m. on June 4, Pentecost Sunday, the Pope will celebrate Mass in St. Peter’s Square. A note from the Office of Liturgical Celebrations of the Supreme Pontiff invites all the faithful of the diocese of Rome and pilgrims present in the city to attend.

At the conclusion of the commemorative ceremony for the victims of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, the Pope travelled by car to Krakow-Balice airport, where a brief final ceremony was held before his departure for Rome.

Replying to an address from Lech Kaczynski, president of Poland, the Holy Father recalled that, four years ago, when John Paul II left his homeland for the last time, he called on the Polish nation “always to be guided by sentiments of mercy, fraternal solidarity, and dedication to the common good, and he expressed the firm conviction that in this way [Poland] would not only find her proper place within a united Europe, but would also enrich this continent and the whole world with her tradition.

“Today,” he went on, “as your presence in the family of European States is being constantly consolidated, I wish with my whole heart to repeat those words of hope. I ask you to remain faithful custodians of the Christian deposit, and to transmit it to future generations.”

Benedict XVI thanked the Poles for their prayers for him since the moment of his election as Peter’s Successor, adding: “I would like you to continue to remember me in your prayers, asking the Lord to increase my strength in the service of the Universal Church.”

After thanking the president of the Republic of Poland, the civil and religious authorities, and everyone involved in the smooth running of his visit, the Pope concluded his remarks with the words of St. Paul: “Be watchful, stand firm in your faith, be courageous, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love.”

The papal plane took off from Krakow at 9.50 p.m., arriving at Rome’s Ciampino airport at 11.30 p.m. From there, the Pope travelled back to the Vatican by helicopter.

Read the full text of the Holy Father’s speech here

Sunday afternoon, His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI travelled by car from the archbishop’s palace in Krakow to the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camps, on the last stage of his apostolic trip to Poland.

The Pope walked into the Auschwitz concentration camp, passing under the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (work makes you free) written over the gate. Once inside he was welcomed by the director of the Auschwitz Museum and by other civil and religious authorities. He visited the courtyard surrounding the Wall of Death, where prisoners used to be summarily executed, and met with former inmates. He also visited the cell where St. Maximilian Kolbe died, in the cellar of block 11.

The Holy Father then travelled by car to the center for dialogue and prayer, a Catholic institution established near the camp, upon which he bestowed his apostolic blessing. Returning to his car, he journeyed three kilometers to the camp of Birkenau. Upon arriving there, the Pope first paused before the 22 bronze slabs that symbolically commemorate the victims of the Holocaust in the concentration camps of Auschwitz and Birkenau. He also met with representatives of other religions and with a group of concentration camp survivors of various nationalities.

The Pope prayed for the victims and listened to the Kaddish, the Hebrew prayer of mourning, before delivering his address:

“To speak in this place of horror, in this place where unprecedented mass crimes were committed against God and man, is almost impossible – and it is particularly difficult and troubling for a Christian, for a Pope from Germany,” said Benedict XVI.

“In a place like this, words fail; in the end, there can only be a dread silence – a silence which is itself a heartfelt cry to God: Why, Lord, did You remain silent? How could You tolerate all this? In silence, then, we bow our heads before the endless line of those who suffered and were put to death here; yet our silence becomes in turn a plea for forgiveness and reconciliation, a plea to the living God never to let this happen again.”

The Pope recalled the visit of John Paul II, who “came here as a son of that people which, along with the Jewish people, suffered most in this place and, in general, throughout the war. ‘Six million Poles lost their lives during the Second World War: a fifth of the nation,’ he reminded us. Here too he solemnly called for respect for human rights and the rights of nations.”

“John Paul II came here as a son of the Polish people. I come here today as a son of the German people. For this very reason, I can and must echo his words: I could not fail to come here. I had to come. It is a duty before the truth, and the just due of all who suffered here, a duty before God, for me to come here as the successor of John Paul II and as a son of the German people – a son of that people over which a ring of criminals rose to power by false promises of future greatness and the recovery of the nation’s honor, prominence and prosperity, but also through terror and intimidation, with the result that our people was used and abused as an instrument of their thirst for destruction and power.”

“How many questions arise in this place!” the Holy Father cried. “Constantly the question comes up: Where was God in those days? … How could He permit this endless slaughter, this triumph of evil? The words of Psalm 44 come to mind, … This cry of anguish, which Israel raised to God in its suffering, at moments of deep distress, is also the cry for help raised by all those who in every age … suffer for the love of God, for the love of truth and goodness.”

“We cannot peer into God’s mysterious plan – we see only piecemeal, and we would be wrong to set ourselves up as judges of God and history. Then we would not be defending man, but only contributing to his downfall. No – when all is said and done, we must continue to cry out humbly yet insistently to God: … Do not forget mankind, Your creature!”

“Let us cry out to God, with all our hearts, at the present hour, when new misfortunes befall us, when all the forces of darkness seem to issue anew from human hearts: whether it is the abuse of God’s name as a means of justifying senseless violence against innocent persons, or the cynicism which refuses to acknowledge God and ridicules faith in Him.”

“The place where we are standing is a place of memory, it is the place of the Shoah. The past is never simply the past. It always has something to say to us; it tells us the paths to take and the paths not to take. … Some [of the] inscriptions [here] are pointed reminders. There is one in Hebrew. The rulers of the Third Reich wanted to crush the entire Jewish people, to cancel it from the register of the peoples of the earth. … If this people, by its very existence, was a witness to the God Who spoke to humanity and took us to Himself, then that God finally had to die and power had to belong to man alone – to those men, who thought that by force they had made themselves masters of the world.”

“Then there is the inscription in Polish. First and foremost they wanted to eliminate the cultural elite, thus erasing the Polish people as an autonomous historical subject and reducing it, to the extent that it continued to exist, to slavery. Another inscription offering a pointed reminder is the one written in the language of the Sinti and Roma people. Here too, the plan was to wipe out a whole people. … There is also the inscription in Russian, which commemorates the tremendous loss of life endured by the Russian soldiers who combated the Nazi reign of terror; but this inscription also reminds us that their mission had a tragic twofold aim: by setting people free from one dictatorship, they were to submit them to another, that of Stalin and the communist system.” The inscription in German serves as a reminder that “the Germans who had been brought to Auschwitz-Birkenau and met their death here were considered as … the refuse of the nation.”

“Yes, behind these inscriptions is hidden the fate of countless human beings. They jar our memory, they touch our hearts. They have no desire to instill hatred in us: instead, they show us the terrifying effect of hatred. Their desire is to help our reason to see evil as evil and to reject it; their desire is to enkindle in us the courage to do good and to resist evil. They want to make us feel the sentiments expressed in the words that Sophocles placed on the lips of Antigone, as she contemplated the horror all around her: ‘my nature is not to join in hate but to join in love’.”

Read the full text of his address here

Yesterday morning, two million people attended a Mass presided by Benedict XVI in Krakow’s Blonie Park; the same place where, yesterday afternoon, he had met with young people. Polish cardinals and bishops, as well as members of the papal entourage, concelebrated with the Pope.

A representative of the Russian Orthodox Church, Fr. Igor Vyzhanov, also participated in the Eucharistic celebration, conveying to the Pope the greeting of Patriarch Alexis II of Moscow and all the Russias.

In his homily, the Holy Father referred to the recent Solemnity of the Ascension of the Lord: “Here on earth,” he said, “we are called to look up to heaven, to turn our minds and hearts to the inexpressible mystery of God. We are called to look towards this divine reality, to which we have been directed from our creation. For there we find life’s ultimate meaning.”

After recalling how John Paul II used to celebrate Mass in the same park during his apostolic trips to his homeland, Benedict XVI said: “From here he could see Krakow and all Poland. … Krakow, the city of Karol Wojtyła and of John Paul II, is also my Krakow! Krakow has a special place in the hearts of countless Christians throughout the world who know that John Paul II came to the Vatican Hill from this city, from Wawel Hill, ‘from a far country,’ which thus became a country dear to all.”

The Pope then indicated that he had wished to come to Poland and to Krakow “to breathe the air of [John Paul II’s] homeland. I wanted to see the land where he was born, where he grew up and undertook his tireless service to Christ and the Universal Church. … Here I wish to ask God to preserve that legacy of faith, hope and charity which John Paul II gave to the world, and to you in particular.”

Going on to refer to theme of his Polish pilgrimage, “Stand firm in your faith,” the Holy Father pointed out that “faith is a deeply personal and human act, an act which has two aspects. To believe means first to accept as true what our mind cannot fully comprehend.” Secondly, it means to “trust in a person, no ordinary person, but Jesus Christ Himself. What we believe is important, but even more important is the One in Whom we believe.”

“When Karol Wojtyła was elected to the See of Peter in order to serve the Universal Church, your land became a place of special witness to faith in Jesus Christ. You were called to give this witness before the whole world. This vocation of yours is always needed, and it is perhaps even more urgent than ever, now that the Servant of God has passed from this life. Do not deprive the world of this witness!”

“Strengthened by faith in God, devote yourselves fervently to consolidating His Kingdom on earth, a Kingdom of goodness, justice, solidarity and mercy. I ask you to bear courageous witness to the Gospel before today’s world, bringing hope to the poor, the suffering, the lost and abandoned, the desperate and those yearning for freedom, truth and peace. By doing good to your neighbor and showing your concern for the common good, you bear witness that God is love.”

Pope Benedict concluded his address by calling on the faithful “to share with the other peoples of Europe and the world the treasure of your faith, not least as a way of honoring the memory of your countryman, who, as the Successor of St. Peter, did this with extraordinary power and effectiveness.”

Following the Mass and before praying the “Regina Coeli,” the Pope addressed some remarks to young people who, during his meeting with them yesterday, “expressed their adherence to Christ and to the Church.

“Yesterday,” he said, “you presented me with the gift of your book of testimonies: ‘I do not take them, I am free of drugs.’ I ask you now as your father: remain faithful to this promise. It is a question of your lives and your freedom. Do not let yourselves fall victim to this world’s illusions.”

At the end of the ceremony, Benedict travelled by car to the archbishop’s palace in Krakow where he had lunch. In the early afternoon, he bid farewell to the staff and collaborators of the archbishop, and to some of the members of the organizational committee of his visit.

Read the full text of the homily here

On May 27th, having first visited Wawel cathedral in Krakow, the Holy Father travelled by popemobile to the city’s Blonie Park – the site of many of John Paul II’s celebrations in Krakow – where he met with young people.

Following a greeting pronounced by Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, archbishop of Krakow, and testimonies from a number of young people, the Pope delivered an address to the 1,000,000 strong crowd that had gathered in the park to hear him.

“In the heart of every man,” he began, “there is the desire for a house. Even more so in the young person’s heart there is a great longing for a proper house, a stable house. … There is a longing for a house you can be proud of. … These longings are simply the desire for a full, happy and successful life. Do not be afraid of this desire! Do not run away from this desire! Do not be discouraged at the sight of crumbling houses, frustrated desires and faded longings. God the Creator, who inspires in young hearts an immense yearning for happiness, will not abandon you in the difficult construction of the house called life.”

“How do I build that house called life? Jesus … encourages us to build on the rock. In fact, it is only in this way that the house will not crumble. But what does it mean to build a house on the rock? Building on the rock means, first of all, to build on Christ and with Christ.” It means “to build on a foundation that is called ‘crucified love’.”

Christ, Benedict XVI added, “knowing us better than we know ourselves, says to us: ‘You are precious in my eyes and honored, and I love you’.” Building on the rock “means to build with Someone Who is always faithful, even when we are lacking in faith, because He cannot deny Himself; … with Someone Who constantly looks down on the wounded heart of man and says: ‘I do not condemn you, go and do not sin again.’ … Do not be afraid to lean on Christ! Long for Christ, as the foundation of your life!”

To build on the rock, the Pope went on, also means “building on Someone Who was rejected,” and he recalled St. Peter’s description of Jesus “as a ‘living stone rejected by men.’ … The undeniable fact of the election of Jesus by God does not conceal the mystery of evil, whereby man is able to reject Him Who has loved to the very end. This rejection of Jesus … extends throughout human history, even to our own time. … Often, Jesus is ignored, … He is declared a king of the past Who is not for today and certainly not for tomorrow. He is relegated to a storeroom of questions and persons one dare not mention publicly in a loud voice. If in the process of building the house of your life you encounter those who scorn the foundation on which you are building, do not be discouraged! A strong faith must endure tests. … Our faith in Jesus Christ … must frequently face others’ lack of faith.”

Yet to build on the rock, the Holy Father highlighted, also means “being aware that there will be misfortunes. … Christ not only understands man’s desire for a lasting house, but he is also fully aware of all that can wreck man’s happiness. Do not be surprised therefore by misfortunes. … An edifice built on the rock is not the same as a building removed from the forces of nature, which are inscribed in the mystery of man. To have built on rock means being able to count on the knowledge that at difficult times there is a reliable force upon which you can trust.”

“What does it mean to build on the rock?” the Pope asked again. “Building on the rock also means to build on Peter and with Peter. … ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my Church.’ … If Christ, the Rock, … calls His Apostle ‘rock,’ it means that He wants Peter, and together with him the entire Church, to be a visible sign of the one Savior and Lord. … Do not be fooled by those who want to play Christ against the Church. … Young people, you know well the Rock of our times. Accordingly, do not forget that neither that Peter who is watching our gathering from the window of God the Father, nor this Peter who is now standing in front of you, nor any successive Peter will ever be opposed to you or the building of a lasting house on the rock.”

“The last word is a hopeful one,” Pope Benedict concluded. “The fear of failure can at times frustrate even the most beautiful dreams. … It can convince one that the yearning for such a house is only a childish aspiration and not a plan for life. … You are all witnesses to hope, to that hope which is not afraid to build the house of one’s own life because it is certain that it can count on the foundation that will never crumble: Jesus Christ our Lord.”

Having completed his address, the Pope gave the young people the “Flame of Mercy,” as a symbol of their mission to carry the light of faith throughout the world, and blessed the first stone of the John Paul II Center.

Read the full text of the address here


A Priest of the Sioux Falls Catholic Diocese killed in Texas water accident:

Father Todd Reitmeyer, a priest of the Catholic Diocese of Sioux Falls serving in Faulkton, Seneca and Orient, SD was killed in a jet ski accident while vacationing in Texas on May 24.

Father Reitmeyer is a native of the Austin, Texas area who was ordained a priest here in 2003. He was currently home to visit family and friends during his vacation. The accident occurred on Lake Travis near Austin.
Father Reitmeyer was born on May 13, 1969 to David and Phyllis Reitmeyer in Virginia. His father was in the military so the family moved some, but eventually settled in the Austin, Texas area. His father suffered a stroke and died in 1992. He graduated from Texas A&M, and earned a Masters degree in counseling from Northwest Missouri State. His discernment of his vocation led him to meet Bishop Robert Carlson, and eventually Todd moved to South Dakota, living in Faulkton with then pastor Father Terry Anderson for several months before entering the seminary. He attended St. John Vianney Seminary in St. Paul, MN before studying Theology at North American College in Rome.

He was ordained on June 13, 2003 at St. Joseph Cathedral by Bishop Robert Carlson. His first assignment was as associate pastor at St. Michael, Sioux Falls. He then became administrator of St. Michael, Herreid, St. Anthony, Selby and St. Joseph, Eureka where he served from January of 2004 until June of 2005. For the past year he has served as administrator at St. Thomas, Faulkton and St. Boniface, Seneca, as well as sacramental minister for St. Joseph, Orient. He served as spiritual director for St. Margaret Fellowship, the association of Catholic home school families since August 2003.

Father Todd is survived by his mother Phyllis Steiger of Rochester, MN; two brothers, William of Austin, TX and Thomas of College Station, TX; his sister, Christina Sheely of Coldwater, MI, and many friends. The Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at the Church of Santa Cruz, Buda, TX on Tuesday, May 30, 10:00 a.m. A Scripture service will be held at the Church Monday evening at 7:30. He will be buried at Assumption Cemetery, Austin, TX.

A Memorial Mass will be held at St. Joseph Cathedral, Sioux Falls, at noon on Wednesday, May 31, celebrated by Bishop Samuel Aquila, apostolic administrator for the Diocese of Sioux Falls.

Fr. Todd was the blogger behind “A Son Becomes a Father”. While I did not know him outside of our online world, his passing leaves a deep void.

Requiescat in Pace

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

I am very pleased to be able to meet you during my visit here to the Shrine of Divine Mercy. I extend heartfelt greetings to all of you: to the sick, their carers, the priests engaged in pastoral ministry at the Shrine, to the Sisters of Our Lady of Mercy, to the members of the “Faustinum” and to all those present.

On this occasion we encounter two mysteries: the mystery of human suffering and the mystery of Divine Mercy. At first sight these two mysteries seem to be opposed to one another. But when we study them more deeply in the light of faith, we find that they are placed in reciprocal harmony through the mystery of the Cross of Christ. As Pope John Paul II said in this place: “the Cross is the most profound bowing down of the Divinity towards man … the Cross is like a touch of eternal love on the most painful wounds of humanity’s earthly existence” (17 August 2002). Dear friends who are sick, who are marked by suffering in body or soul, you are most closely united to the Cross of Christ, and at the same time, you are the most eloquent witnesses of God’s mercy. Through you and through your suffering, he bows down towards humanity with love. You who say in silence: “Jesus, I trust in you” teach us that there is no faith more profound, no hope more alive and no love more ardent than the faith, hope and love of a person who in the midst of suffering places himself securely in God’s hands. May the human hands of those who care for you in the name of mercy be an extension of the open hands of God.

I would so willingly embrace each one of you. But since this is impossible, I draw you spiritually to my heart, and I impart my Blessing in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

At the end of his meeting with the people of Wadowice, the Holy Father Benedict XVI traveled by car to the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Kalwaria.

Below is the address given there:

Dear (Franciscan) Fathers,

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

During his first journey to Poland, Pope John Paul II visited this Shrine and dedicated his address to the topic of prayer. At the conclusion he said: “I ask you to pray for me here during my life and after my death.” Today, I wanted to pause for a moment in the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary and, with gratitude, to pray for him as he requested. Following the example of John Paul II, I also turn to you, kindly asking that you pray for me and for all the Church.

I would also like to say, as has dear Cardinal Stanislaw, that I hope Divine Providence will soon concede the Beatification and Canonisation of our beloved Pope John Paul II.

Blessing in Latin

In the footsteps of John Paul II, a witness of faith;

Beloved Brothers and Sisters,

I am filled with emotion in the birthplace of my great Predecessor, the Servant of God John Paul II, in this town of his childhood and young adult life. Indeed, I could not leave out Wadowice as I make this pilgrimage in Poland following in his footsteps. I wished to stop precisely here, in the place where his faith began and matured, to pray together with all of you that he may soon be elevated to the glory of the altars. Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, the great German poet, said: “He who wishes to understand a poet, should visit his native land.” This is also true for those who wish to understand the life and ministry of John Paul II; it is necessary to come to the city of his birth. He himself confessed that here, in Wadowice, “everything began: life, studies, the theatre and the priesthood” (Wadowice, 16 June 1999).

John Paul II, returning to his beginnings, often referred to a sign: that of the baptismal font, to which he himself gave special veneration in the Church of Wadowice. In 1979, during his first pilgrimage in Poland he stated: “In this baptismal font, on 20 June 1920, I was given the grace to become a son of God, together with faith in my Redeemer, and I was welcomed into the community of the Church. I have already solemnly kissed this baptismal font in the year of the millennium of the Baptism of Poland, when I was Archbishop of Kraków. I kissed it again on the fiftieth anniversary of my baptism, when I was a Cardinal, and today I kiss this baptismal font for the third time, as I come from Rome as the Successor of Saint Peter” (Wadowice, 7 June 1979). It seems that in these words of John Paul II is contained the key to understanding the consistency of his faith, the radicalism of his Christian life and the desire for sanctity that he continuously manifested. Here is the profound awareness of divine grace, the unconditional love of God for man, that by means of water and the Holy Spirit places the Catechumen among the multitude of his children, who are redeemed by the Blood of Christ. The way of an authentically Christian life equals faithfulness to the promises of holy Baptism. The watchword of this pilgrimage: “Stand firm in your faith”, finds in this place its concrete dimension that can be expressed with the exhortation: “Stand firm in the observance of your baptismal promises.” A witness of just such a faith – of whom this place speaks in a very special way – is the Servant of God John Paul II.

My great Predecessor indicated the Basilica of Wadowice, his home parish, as a place of particular importance for the development of his spiritual life and the priestly vocation that was manifesting itself within him. He once stated: “In this church I made my first Confession and received my first Holy Communion. Here I was an altar boy. Here I gave thanks to God for the gift of the priesthood and, as Archbishop of Kraków, I celebrated the twenty-fifth anniversary of my ordination to the priesthood. God alone, the giver of every grace, knows what goodness and what manifold graces I received from this church and from this parish community. To him, the Triune God, I give glory today at the doors of this church” (Wadowice, 16 June 1999). The church is a sign of the communion of believers united by the presence of God who dwells in their midst. This community is the Church Pope John Paul II loved. His love for the Church was born in the parish of Wadowice. In it he experienced the sacramental life, evangelization and the formation of a mature faith. For this reason, as a priest, as a bishop and as Pope, he treated parochial communities with such great care. In the spirit of that same solicitude, during the visit ad limina Apostolorum, I asked the Polish Bishops to do everything possible to ensure that the Polish parish would truly be an “ecclesial community” and a “family of the Church”.

In conclusion, let me recall once again a characteristic of the faith and spirituality of John Paul II, which is united to this place. He himself remembered many times the deep attachment of the inhabitants of Wadowice to the local image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help and the custom of daily prayer in front of her by the school children. This memory helps us arrive at the source of the conviction that nourished John Paul II – the conviction regarding the exceptional place that the Mother of God had in his life, a conviction that he himself, filled with devotion, expressed in the motto “Totus tuus”. Until the last moments of his earthly pilgrimage he remained faithful to this dedication.

In the spirit of this devotion, before this image I wish to give thanks to God for the Pontificate of John Paul II and, like him, I ask that Our Lady watch over the Church which by the will of God has been entrusted to me to guide. I also ask all of you, dear brothers and sisters, to pray for me just as you prayed for your great fellow countryman. From the depths of my heart, I bless all of you present here today and all those who come to Wadowice to draw from the font of the spirit of faith of John Paul II.

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